The Severed Continuum: Soviet Realism and the Case of The Silent Don

  • John Orr
Part of the Edinburgh Studies in Culture and Society book series


The continuity of Russian realism has always been a controversial issue. After the Russian Revolution, the wholesale rejection of cultural tradition by many left-wing artists and critics also entailed a rejection of classic mimetic forms. Futurists, Constructivists and Suprematists rejected representational art as a relic of bourgeois individualism and committed themselves to new experimental techniques in poetry, film, drama and architecture. In the sphere of literature LEF and On Guard, the magazine of the Na Postu group, made violent attacks upon pre-revolutionary literature. Advocating a didactic, proselytising literature they rejected representational fiction as static and conservative and hence useless in the task of politicising the masses through art. Later, in 1928, the various anti-mimetic groups became absorbed into the new proletarian writers’ organisation of Leopold Averbakh, RAPP. New forms of attack were made on representational art, less by rejecting the principle as such than by subjecting it to criteria which were severely constricting. Class background, active commitment to the party, and the choice of fictive themes relevant to the tasks of socialist construction were all weighed positively. Their absence provoked condemnation and often a refusal to publish. But the constrictions upon realist literature which increased rapidly during the period of the first Five-Year plan were nothing compared with the official dogma which ended RAPP’s literary dictatorship.


Literary Tradition Active Commitment Social Privilege Wholesale Rejection Tragic Hero 
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  1. 1.
    See Roy A. Medvedev, Problems in the Literary Biography of Mikhail Sholokhov (trans. A. D. P. Briggs) (Cambridge 1977)Google Scholar
  2. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, ‘Sholokhov and the riddle of “The Quiet Don”’, Times Literary Supplement (4 October 1974), p. 1056Google Scholar
  3. and the article on Medvedev’s study by Peter Osnos in the Guardian (19 April 1975).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Mikhail Sholokhov, And Quiet Flows the Don (trans. Stephen Garry) (Harmondsworth 1967), pp. 510–11.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    See Leon Trotsky, My Life (New York 1960), pp. 453–5.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Sholokhov, The Don Flows Home to the Sea (trans. Stephen Garry) (Harmondsworth 1972), p. 420.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    For a discussion of the English omissions see David Stewart, ‘The Silent Don in English’, American Slavic and East European Review, vol. XV, (1956), pp. 265–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© John Orr 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Orr
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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